I am not a tech junkie, so I don't expect this post to be earth-shattering for anyone who is. If you're like me, and you like basic tools that can help make teaching more efficient or learning more accessible, then that's what you'll get today. Instead of ranking by effectiveness, I'll just list what I use most. A must know: in April of 2013, my school went one-to-one with iPads. If passing out iPads in April sounds crazy to you, trust me, it was. Last year was our first full year, and I still wouldn't consider myself anywhere near proficient at using them to their full potential. If you use iPads or love certain apps/websites for the English classroom, I would love to hear from you!
1. Educreations App/website (www.educreations.com).
All of our students have the Educreations app on their iPads, and it can be used in any classroom. How do I explain it for those who have no idea what I'm talking about? It's a virtual whiteboard of sorts: you can upload any image or document to the screen and then mark on it in various colors. You can also just use it as a whiteboard and write, graph, or draw on it. Educreations has a record feature that allows you to create lessons and save them to your classroom on their website. You can make these public or private, or browse other lessons posted by teachers. I have kids use Educreations when they're revising or editing. They can upload an picture or copy of their paper and mark on it virtually or record narration. I've also used it to give feedback on individual papers if I couldn't meet face to face with a student due to time constraints. Here's an example of me giving feedback on student work using Educreations (side note: anyone else who can't stand the sound of your own voice?!):
2. Knowmia/Teach App (www.knowmia.com).
Knowmia is another app and website where you can record lessons to share with students or browse lessons by other teachers. It's still ridiculously easy to use, but a little more confusing so I don't have the kids create work using it like I do with Educreations. I create video lessons for my students on basic, "need to know" material for my class. If it's something that I feel I'm constantly repeating in class, that's a sign I need to make a video lesson and post it for the kids so they always have access. I haven't come close to using Knowmia to its full potential, but it's definitely something I will continue to experiment with. Eventually I'd like to create videos on a lot of basic, global issues in writing to flip my classroom so my actual days can resemble more of a workshop and I can spend less time at the board. I see Knowmia as being an equalizer for students as well: if it takes them a few times to really understand a concept or process, they can watch the video as many times as it takes. If you can't get enough of my nasally voice, awkward pauses, and oddly placed emphasis (I mean, really: do I sound like this in real life?) here's a Knowmia lesson I made for formatting in my classes:
3. Evernote (www.evernote.com)
I'm in love with Evernote personally and professionally. As a disorganized person, sometimes this app is my only sanity. You can access your account from any device: I keep it up on my phone, iPad, and laptop at all times. It's note-taking on steroids and you can keep notebooks and notes organized in any system that works for you. Upload pictures, voice record, whatever you want! I use the free version, and I'm tempted to upgrade until I remember that the free version already does everything I need. I have students use Evernote as their notebook for my class. This is where they take notes on what we read, where they organize research, and where they keep ideas. During the first week of school, I have all of my students create a note of writing topic ideas listing 30 things they love, 10 things they hate, 5 things they don't understand, and 5 things they fear or are creeped out by. They can add any other random ideas to this note, too. I tell them to come back to these lists whenever they have writer's block and pick something from a category to write about in any genre. "I don't know what to write about" is not a valid excuse in my class since they have this list. Here's a screenshot of my list (remember, I do everything they do):
This is my first year using NoRedInk after discovering it over the summer via Pinterest. I love it. If I haven't mentioned before, I am so not a grammarian type of English teacher. I attended school during the "whole language" movement, and never learned my parts of speech and linguistics rules until some disastrous college courses. I still get stumped by grammar questions all the time, and I despise grammar textbooks and worksheets (shudder). However, as a middle school English teacher, I'm still expected to cover these concepts. NoRedInk allows me to do that without turning my classroom into a memorization factory and it also allows me to spot global issues for my students without a lot of wasted time. I use the free version (not enough students to qualify for Premium). I create a 10 question lesson on a different topic each day, students do the lesson on their iPads (it allows them to keep trying and read through rules and examples as they so choose). On Fridays, I create a quiz based on the concepts from that week. All told, this takes up about 5-7 minutes of my class each day. The site is interactive in a fun way for kids: they chose their interests (they can even input names of people they know) and the sentences use their choices to create sentences. It's silly, but they like reading the sentences when their best friend or favorite boy band member shows up in the sentence. This website is one of the most painless ways to "do" grammar that I've found so far.
Kids love making movies, and iMovie makes it simple. This is definitely a case where my students are more familiar and comfortable with the technology than I am, so I just let them create. I've had students create Digital versions of their novels after NaNoWriMo each year (kind of the movie trailer version of their work). I teach a Publishing elective during 8th period, co-taught with my friend and colleague, Brian McGurk, and his 21st Century Skills class. Together we create content for our online middle school site Clargold Weekly. A new feature that we've added this year is Clargold Chronicles, a weekly short movie with scripts created by my students and video/editing by his students. If you'd like to see me being the mean teacher to a new kid, check this out:
So there you have it, five ways I like to use tech in my room. Hopefully I gave you some useful ideas, but I'd love to hear more. This is one area of my teaching that I'd like to greatly develop each year.
I teach 7th and 8th grade English in rural Iowa and hope to reflect, connect, and share with other English teachers. Iowa Council of Teachers of English Executive Board member. Iowa Writing Project superfan. UNI MA:TESS graduate.